How to embrace the long and winding road that can be toilet learning

‘I don’t need a nappy anymore,’ chants my youngest as she skips into the room.  She’s been at her first Montessori kinder now for 4 days.  They have toilets and the children are encouraged not to wear nappies from about 18 months of age.  They have special underwear that is more absorbent than normal knickers, but that still let them know when they are wet.  

‘Is that right, darling?’ I say, bending down so that I can celebrate this new milestone.  

My eldest, however, is devastated.  A gastro bug has swept through her school and only ten minutes earlier she had agreed to put a nappy on because she couldn’t get to the toilet fast enough.  She is humiliated and she is angry.  The offending symbol of babyhood is whipped off followed by inconsolable tears.  Sometimes life really is cruel.

Read More

When does being polite mean we can’t ask for what we need?

‘You should get glasses,’ says my husband.  Without turning I know he is looking at the very attractive brunette sitting two tables from us reading her kindle.  

‘I’ve always wanted glasses,’ I say, knowing that our reasons for me wearing glasses will not be the same.

‘Then you could pretend you were a librarian,’ he said, his eyes widening slightly, mischief and desire mingling in the creases of his eyes.  The same eyes he’d like to have nipped and tucked so that when he is 45 he’ll look 35.  

‘A straight-laced librarian with a naughty side,’ I say drolly.  I’m sure this is the plot of at least a hundred porno’s.  ‘Are you going to bend me over the card catalogue?’ 

‘No, you’ll be wearing a short skirt and leaning over to put away a book.’  He laughs, delighted with himself.  I look around at the darkly lit, nearly empty restaurant, the brunette has been pulled away from her book by a tall, silver haired, dapper man.  

‘Swedish?’ I ask my husband.

‘Maybe.’

‘Norwegian.’  I conclude as I hear him mention a city in Norway I’ve never heard of.  I’m intrigued by Norway.  I’ve never been, but I want to go.  My husband tells me it is cold and expensive but I still want to go.  Images of forests, lakes, mountain cabins and wilderness, there’s a wildness there that excites me.  We watched a clip about the seed storage facility they built miles under a mountain.  It houses copies of all of the worlds seeds, ‘there’s something comforting says the man on the video, knowing that if something should happen, the worlds crops will not be wiped out.’

My husband and I talked about buying a property in Tasmania, somewhere we could go off grid. I fantasise about living off the land.  Growing our own food, setting up polytunnels, and orchards, keeping animals, working hard, but being self sufficient.  And the idea that somewhere in Norway the worlds seeds are being stored makes me happy.  

‘See,’ I say to my husband, as he searches for hotels in the Canary Islands, ‘even if you are sitting alone, people will still talk to you.’  My husband loves to be alone.  Thrives on solitude.  In his ideal world, the only people he would have to deal with are those he does business with and his family.  I mean this is a man who fell in love with a t-shirt on line that read: ‘Not shy, I just don’t like you.’  If they’d shipped it to the Netherlands, he’d have ordered it in an instant.

‘What would you do, just not answer?’ I ask, curious how he handled unwanted social interactions.  

‘No, that would be rude,’ he says.  I smile.  I can’t help it, I’ve seem him yell at airport staff because they weren’t “following protocol”.   ‘I’d just finish up and leave,’ he says without looking up.   

‘It’s funny how we can’t just say, “I don’t mean to be rude, but I was hoping to enjoy my meal on my own.  I really don’t feel like talking.  I hope that’s okay.”  I mean heaven forbid we offend someone.’  I wonder at all the things people do because they don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings, all the things I have done.   ‘I’d probably end up in a conversation I didn’t want to be in, that would last an hour and a half.’  My husband laughed, he’s seen it happen.    

The brunette keeps chatting with the silver fox. 

‘He’s trying to pick her up,’ says my husband. 

I watch as the man, casually pushes his jacket sleeves up, and leans back a little too comfortably in his seat.  A move I’ve seen many men make.  He is dressed smartly.  He looks good and he knows it.  

‘Maybe he’s just lonely.’ 

‘You’re so naive, I know men.’

I laugh, ‘you know you,’  

My husband lets out a loud guffaw, stopping just shy of slapping the table.  ‘You don’t like people,’ I continue, ‘how can you possibly know people?’

He puts his arm around me and hugs me, ‘You’re funny,’ he says.

‘I have my moments,’ I say, as I always do, kissing his cheek.

We push back our chairs and as my husband signs the check, the brunette knocks back what is left of her coffee and then high tails it out of the restaurant.  

Read More

Different cultural attitudes to nakedness

The sun is warm on my skin and I don’t want to move.   Except that the concrete tiles are cold.  I turn my head and look about me, searchingly.  Perfect.  I roll myself up and grab three of the seat cushions from the nearby table.  The courtyard is empty except for my husband and I.  The other guests have all departed, hunger satiated, to retire by the pool on the sun lounges.  Its a much more beautiful view, for sure, but I cannot be bothered moving.  

I look up at my husband, he is on a daybed in the shadows, his jacket wrapped tightly around him, eyes glued to his iPad as he watches another world war II documentary.  I don’t understand how he finds that relaxing, but he tells me he does.  It’s a bit like when we go for a massage, I want something to release the knots in my muscles but I want it to be relaxing.  He wants someone who will literally bruise him.  He pretends he is training for the day he is tortured, this way he knows he will not crack under pressure.  Why anyone would want to torture him, other than me, I have no idea.  I went to lie next to him but it was too cold.  Instead, I grabbed the remaining cushions and fashioned myself a kind of nest. 

Read More

Sometimes you can’t be there for your kids.

‘Sint Maarten,’ explains our nanny, ‘is like the Dutch Halloween.’  It has absolutely nothing to do with Halloween of course, instead, it celebrates Saint Martin, a man who took his sword to his cloak, slicing in half, so that he might share it, along with his bread with a cold and hungry beggar he met on the road.  

During the day, children make lanterns and when the sun sets, they take their lanterns out onto the street and go from door to door, singing songs to their neighbors in exchange for treats.  I didn’t love the idea of all of the treats, but I did love the idea of the festival.  I wrote the date on the calendar and then of course, promptly forgot it.  

‘I thought we could go away for the weekend for your birthday,’ I say to my husband.  He doesn’t really care for birthdays, especially his own, and generally, prefers to be on a plane heading somewhere.  For the last four years, he has managed to be on a plane, away from his family.  I love birthdays, but his general disregard for them, along with his tendency to just buy whatever he wants, makes him incredibly difficult to buy for.  So this year, I figured I’d come up with a winner.  This year, I would take him away for his birthday.  That way he would be on a plane, we would get to do something fun, and I’d actually get to celebrate his birthday with him.  Which he would hate, but I would love.  ‘I was thinking we could go to Bucharest,’ I continue, knowing that it was one place he had not been and really wanted to go to.  

‘I was thinking we could go to Bucharest,’ I continue, knowing that it was one place he had not been and really wanted to go to.  

‘Too cold,’ he says, not looking up from his laptop where he is busily typing emails.

I close off all of the open tabs I have for hotels, restaurants and things to do.

‘Maybe we could go to that detox place Jeroen went to.  In Spain.’  Jeroen is someone he works with, and he had come back after four days away raving about this retreat.  My husband loves a retreat.  Somewhere that feels luxurious where he can practice yoga, get daily massages and ideally fast and get colonics.  Not exactly my idea of a good time.

‘Sure…’ I say, figuring I could opt out of the colonics and join him for the massages.

We settle on a place, book the accommodation, book the flights, and organize for our nanny to stay the weekend with the girls.  Everything is set.

My husband’s birthday, it turns out, is the same day as Sint Maarten.  By the time I realise everything is booked.  It is too late.  So I am in sunny Spain when my girls are making lanterns.  I am singing happy birthday with the waitress who has just presented my husband with a candle-lit chocolate cake for his birthday when my girls join the neighborhood kids and sing the Sint Maarten songs to everyone who answers their door.  I am not there to see my eldest’s face light up with delight at all the candy.  I am not there when my youngest, decides she is tired and cold and wants to go home three houses in.  

‘Look,’ I say, showing my husband the photos of the girls as they appear on WhatsApp.  

‘Nice,’ he says, without a second thought.

‘I’m sad.’

‘Why?’ he asks, genuinely confused.

‘Because we’re missing it.’  I wanted to be part of that memory, part of that experience.  It was the same way I’d felt when Mum had sent me the video of my eldest crawling for the first time.  I had barely left her side for more than an hour since she had been born, and she chose the one afternoon Mum had sent me away to buy some clothes that would actually fit, to crawl.   I felt sad and guilty and bad, as though I were committing a major parenting offense.  

‘I don’t,’ he says, completely unfazed and unemotional.  Sometimes I envy him that detachment.  The complete freedom he feels to just do whatever he wants, whenever he wants.  If he was there to share it with them great, if he wasn’t, great.  

Two days later, Sinterklaas arrives.  

‘The girls are making pictures for Sinterklaas to put in their shoe for when Sinterklaas comes tonight,’ messages our nanny while we are waiting at the airport.  

‘I thought Sinterklaas doesn’t come until the 5th December,’ I type back quickly, suddenly confused.  ‘Everything I read said that the shoes were set out on the night of the 5th,’  I say to my husband, as though there were something he could do about it. He shrugs, still nonplussed.  

‘Doesn’t this bother you at all?’ 

‘No.’

‘He arrives in the Netherlands today, but his birthday is the 5th December.’  Says the message from our nanny.  ‘They get the big presents on the 5th.’  

As we board our flight, my phone beeps.  A photo of the girls’ shoes lined up neatly in front of the fireplace, scrolls of drawings tied with ribbon poking out of each shoe.  Next to the shoes sit a block of chocolate for Sinterklaas and an apple and some water for his horse.   It’s darling and I want to cry.

At home, I ditch my bag and race up the stairs to my secret present cupboard, the one I’ve been filling since September.  Christmas thrills me and I select a necklace and bracelet, for each of the girls, some stickers, and new crayons.  Then I sneak back down the stairs.  I take a few bites out of the apple, eat several squares of chocolate, the same way my Mum did when I was young, and become part of an age-old tradition that keeps the magic of childhood alive.  

I take the drawings out and unravel them. Avarose looks as though she’s picked up whichever crayon was nearest to her and scribbled about on the page.  There is brown and blue and a little green.  It looks like she became bored quickly.  Grace meanwhile, has colored every inch of the page.  There is pink and purple and blue and yellow around the border and a picture in the middle, Sinterklaas maybe, and possibly his horse, Amerigo.  Maybe that’s what Avarose was drawing too.  I replace them with the beaded necklaces and bracelets, some stickers and new crayons.  Their favorite things at the moment.  Then I tiptoe back down the stairs to bed, impatient for the morning.

Read More